Halftime thoughts as 49ers lead Saints

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts after watching the San Francisco 49ers take a 17-14 halftime lead against the New Orleans Saints in their divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park:

  • The stands are as red as I can recall seeing them. The atmosphere has matched the occasion.

  • Forcing three first-quarter turnovers was a dream scenario for the 49ers. The team did a good job converting in the red zone after the second turnover. But with four total first-half turnovers and only a three-point lead, the 49ers are not exactly cruising.

  • Coach Jim Harbaugh showed confidence in Alex Smith early, and it paid off. Having Smith throw from his own end zone seemed risky, but Smith converted a short pass to Michael Crabtree. I thought the 49ers played a little too aggressively on the series when Smith took a sack on third down. Mixing in an additional running play would have seemed smarter, and not just in retrospect. But Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman weren't going to play it overly safe. They set an aggressive tone and paid for it when Smith took a sack and lost the ball near midfield in the final seconds of the half. Smith held the ball too long and did not protect it well enough.

  • Looked like Harbaugh wanted to call timeout before Smith threw incomplete in the red zone on third down. The 49ers settled for a field goal and a 17-0 lead.

  • Vernon Davis should have matchup advantages throughout the game, as expected. He's getting the best of safety Roman Harper. No one on the Saints can cover Davis. The key, of course, is Smith having enough time to set up while Davis gets deeper downfield.

  • Fantastic interceptions from Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown. Goldson outfoxed Drew Brees, lurking behind tight end Jimmy Graham before pouncing on the ball. Brown's leaping two-hand snatch appeared more impressive at full speed than in slow motion. That was a big-time play. Goldson, Brown and Carlos Rogers now have 18 interceptions during the regular season and playoffs.

  • Adam Snyder is playing center for the 49ers after Jonathan Goodwin suffered an apparent leg injury. Snyder moved from right guard to center, with Chilo Rachal taking over at right guard. Snyder's versatility is key. One more injury on the line would cause big problems, however.

  • Smith has taken a couple big hits, including one from Harper that appeared to include helmet-to-helmet contact. Critics call Smith a game manager. It's hard to envision the 49ers managing a victory without him. Rookie Colin Kaepernick has hardly played.

  • The 49ers are obviously the more physical team. Donte Whitner and the defense have roughed up Pierre Thomas and tight end Graham. They have separated the Saints from the ball. But with Brees throwing a couple touchdown passes to close the gap, this game is only beginning. I think the 49ers need at least 10 more points to feel good about this one.

That's it for now. Hope you're enjoying the game.